President - Alan Kosloff     Secretary - Ellie Caulkins    Treasurer - Patrick Gramm    Executive Director  -  Jim Lamont

Directors:  Judith Berkowitz  -  Dolph Bridgewater  -  Richard Conn  -  Gail Ellis  -  Ron Langley

Eugene Mercy  -  Bill Morton  -  Trygve Myhren  -  Gretta Parks  -  Emeritus:  Bob Galvin


Eliminating I-70, a Grand Vision for Vail - Update Report


The Homeowners Association, to assist in framing the public debate about the future of Interstate 70 prepared a white paper report as an overview of I-70 issues confronting the community.  This report includes long-term options available to significantly reduce or eliminate its negative impacts.   Access the full report on the Association’s website.

The threat from I-70 is escalating and impending.  A planning effort by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) concludes that the Interstate, west from Denver to a point well beyond Vail, must be expanded to accommodate six travel lanes and an additional two lanes for a possible rapid mass transit system.  The department is taking its first steps to implement the planned expansion.  Construction of $4 billion in programmed improvements is projected to occur over the next twenty years.  

The very future of the community is at risk from the environmental degradation the projected CDOT expansion would engender.  Traffic volume is expected to double by 2025, and noise levels will increase by 50% or more.  The desirability of being outdoors in Vail will deteriorate as the chronic noise and air pollution increases, along with water pollution from road sanding.

The investigation by the Association suggests options which will preserve and improve Vail’s future.  One option is to relocate the Interstate in a bypass tunnel, in which an expanded I-70 would be constructed under Vail Mountain, from a point just above the East Vail exit (180) to Dowd Junction.  The second is to bury I-70 in a “cut & cover” tunnel within the interstate right-of-way through Vail.   

The Association, in a study of European ski resort communities, found evidence that when confronted with the same dilemma, these communities created permanent solutions that protected their environment and culture and preserved the character of the entire community to the benefit of all inhabitants.  The solutions used advanced highway construction techniques to build both tunnel and cut & cover solutions for expressway traffic; others employed progressive mass transportation with park and ride technology to reduce reliance on automobile access all together.  The construction technology to undertake these types of projects in Vail is available.

The preliminary rough cost of construction for the bypass tunnel, $3.05 billion, is less costly than the “cut & cover” method, $3.46 billion.  Financing of the bypass tunnel, in theory, could be accomplished through privatization.  The key to privatization is obtaining Federal approval to allow the project to be privately financed through tolls. Tolls on sections of the interstate system will become more commonplace, as Federally sanctioned privatized interstate projects are already occurring in Virginia, Maryland, Texas and Illinois.  Optional financing could come from selling development rights generated from the sale of the current Vail interstate right-of-way to private developers. 

The cut & cover method would be financed through the sale of “air-rights” to developers in its existing right-of-way, covering it with a concrete lid on which private developments, community facilities, affordable housing, and expanded facilities for the destination guest could be built.  Funds have already been pledged for a Dowd Junction Bypass tunnel in the Federal and State expansion plan for  I-70.  Such a tunnel could be integrated with either “Grand Vision” option.  Funds that would be allocated to an eventual expansion of I-70 through Vail could also be allocated toward either the bypass tunnel or cut & cover option. 

Preliminary studies indicate that the less expensive bypass tunnel option would also be less disruptive to the community and surrounding region.  The “cut & cover” method must be staged to minimize inconvenience to the community during construction and it does not solve the environmental noise problem for the entire community.  Opening land for development to finance either option will reshape the community, with opportunities for public improvements and new development. We recognize that any additional development raises sensitive issues.  Importantly, a bypass tunnel might not require new development if toll funded privatization were allowed, assuming sufficient revenues from this source.  As important, the bypass tunnel will positively affect the quality of life for every member of the community equitably because all will share in the resulting environmental and economic benefit.

There is much to be gained by Vail taking the initiative to propose solutions for itself.  The required political, planning and financing processes could take a decade or longer. Construction of either “Grand Vision” option could require another  decade to execute. 

Public expressions of support from Vail’s full and part-time residents are essential to move the concept from popular discussion to the community’s long-term agenda.  An opportunity to put the matter on the community’s agenda will occur this summer in conjunction with the Town of Vail’s 20/20 community visioning program.  If the weight of public opinion is favorable, then either or both the Town Council and private developers will have support to set the wheels-in-motion to pursue the ”Grand Vision”.  

PFD Print Version.

News Articles:

Rocky Mountain News Coverage of  Vail Bypass Tunnel and Cut & Cover Concepts:

Vail Daily: I70 Coalition want to curb rush hour traffic

The Economist: Road to Somewhere